An initial assessment is the clinician’s chance to learn about the client’s past history, both medically and socially. Through the lens of cancer, it may include how the cancer was discovered, the treatment course, family support, and financial stressors. The initial assessment also allows patients to see if their needs will be met by CancerCare, and sometimes also by the clinician.


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Oftentimes, the call to CancerCare is a patient’s first experience with counseling services. We understand that making that first call may be uncomfortable. Frequently, patients are assessed at this point, and this assessment is their first chance to truly gauge what to expect from their experience with CancerCare. The patient is afforded an opportunity to explain what his or her expectations of counseling are, as well as the clinician being able to facilitate a safe and understanding space for the patient to tell his or her story to an unbiased listener. This flow of information hopefully eases any anxiety between the patient and the clinician.

The goal of the assessment and therapy itself is to foster a therapeutic alliance between the clinician and the patient. This alliance is often the most important step in eliciting information and is achieved through the clinicians’ techniques, overall tone, and body language.

Although the clinician is asking the questions, the patient is also assessing the clinician by asking themselves questions such as “Is this someone I can trust with my story?” “Is it a safe space to say things that I haven’t been able to before?” If you have ever been on the other side of an assessment, you can recognize how the questions we ask patients reveal their vulnerability.